2 Cities, 5 days, 16 teams
By Domilė Janėnaitė, Head of Tech Partnerships at Digital Knights
Serbia’s rise as a key outsourcing nation has been on the cards for a long time. Cost-effective. Talented. Driven. There’s a clear trend in the quality of tech teams hailing from Serbia that undergo the Digital Knights tech due diligence process.
In January I went to Serbia with my colleagues Prags and Polina to assess prospective technical partners and to take a look behind the data, and learn just why Serbia was regarded as one of the most desirable places to outsource development in 2017.
We arrived in Belgrade late and drove to Novi Sad where Nikola Sologub & Nikola Isailovic from The Best Practice* awaited. The two Nikolas are Digital Knights ambassadors in Serbia and have spent the better part of 2017 creating awareness for Digital Knights and introducing us to what they consider to be the top-tier technical talent the country has to offer. This is the part of the job we love - traveling as a team and meeting other teams. It’s a privilege to meet and learn how our partners build their companies, how they establish themselves as industry leaders, thought leaders and pillars of the tech community. Short answer: processes and strong engineering talent. What’s apparent to us, is that tech talent here could literally work anywhere. If they were based in the States they would be working for Google.
What’s the secret sauce?
Throughout the week, we learned why Serbia may have earned its reputation as a breeding ground for talented engineers, and the answer lies in its history of eschewing ideological education in favor of subjects that deal exclusively with logic and reason. Who knew a strong tradition of science and mathematics could prep a generation for careers in IT? In Serbia, engineering graduates account for nearly 33% of all university grads from technical schools whilst IT is taught at 35 higher education institutions.
Software development companies are well aware of this wealth of Serbian tech talent and have set up academies to attract the brightest post-grads. Promising students are invited to develop their skills and vie for placements at the companies who run the academies. It’s worth noting that it’s not just students invited to participate - budding developers learning outside of a formal education that want to try something new are also a mainstay at these academies.
Outside of the academy model, Serbian universities collaborate with software development teams on long-term projects. Med-Tech insights from developers have aided university medical labs in implanting medical electronics and controlling software - including a deep brain stimulating device that treats and works towards curing acute neuropsychological illness. Academia and the IT sector are intertwined, and working together to great effect.
Winning the Culture War
When it comes to working culture in Serbia, employees are given great incentives to stay at their respective companies.
80% of the teams we met operate on a profit-sharing model, and most - if not all - are strictly flat hierarchies.
A surprising thing we found out during our trip was that a lot of development studios have their own spin-offs and businesses within businesses. Developing internal projects either to make their job easier, such as project tracking optimization, or to solve problems in the local community, such as a lunch delivery service on a SaaS model, have gone on to become fully-fledged products and services.
The teams are active in their community using their considerable tech talent to solve problems where they live. The rest of Europe, and beyond, should be taking note.
“Our people understand that it’s all about building trust and providing value from the start till the end for each and every engagement.”
This is the spot.
What this means for their IT industry is that they are able to build strong relationships with clients in Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Dubai, and other tech hubs in both the DACH and the Middle East. Serbia’s historical significance as being center of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires give it the inter-cultural aptitude it enjoys and takes full advantage of today. Despite the distance, Serbian Technical Partners begin any long-term collaboration with a face-to-face meeting, laying the foundation for a lasting relationship.
Another surprising thing we learned on this trip was Serbia’s close relationship with the Netherlands. According to some of the teams we met, this relationship can be attributed to Levi9 - a Dutch multinational IT provider - establishing a development center in Serbia to gain access to Serbia’s engineers. It’s not just by virtue of Serbia’s geography that developers are forging connections all over Europe, but because of reputation too.
Serbia’s talent offerings are considerable, and the teams we met all say the same thing: give us your biggest, toughest problems that you have - we have the insights, and we are structured problem solvers. Bring it.
Three things we learned from visiting Novi Sad and Belgrade:
- Prags: "The teams we met in Serbia where not only technically strong, they are rather problem solvers that utilize technology as a tool to solve complex business issues."
- Polina: "The level of English is phenomenal, you would think everyone are native speakers."
- Domilė: "Serbian teams are pushing the envelope when it comes to the 3rd wave of technologies may it be IoT, Blockchain, AI, AR/VR."
For a deep dive on the major factors that make Serbia an outsourcing destination, click here.
*The Best Practice work with corporate innovation hubs on utilizing blockchain technology, and work intensively on matching business needs with tech in this fast-paced area of digitalization.
**Image: VegaIT office in Novi Sad